One thing I particularly love about eating out in Bangkok is the informality. I've witnessed firsthand the hoops that people have to go through simply to eat out (not to mention the prices associated with this) in most other big cities around the world, and love the fact that I can virtually waltz into just about any place in town on a whim. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever even had to make a reservation for a restaurant in Bangkok. Until now, that is.
That reservations are necessary at Jok, a tiny restaurant in a tiny alley in Chinatown, is not surprising, given that the restaurant only has four tables. This is actually a significant increase from the time when Jok was famous for having a single table. But despite the 400% increase in seating, a three-month wait is still the norm here, and according to Mr Jok himself, no amount of money or rank will influence this. Luckily I have friends with more connections than myself who were able to take advantage of a last-minute cancellation. So on a recent Saturday the five of us headed over to Chinatown for a particularly decadent lunch.
There's no menu at Jok, and arriving at the restaurant, we were simply seated and told of what was available. We were begun with wontons:
which were generously stuffed with shrimp and topped with a delicious blanket of crispy deep-fried garlic. Almost dumpling-like, they appeared to have been steamed rather than boiled.
Possibly my favourite dish was a platter of smoked meats, including fatty pork, pork tongue and duck:
The meats had the slightest whiff of alcohol (Chinese cooking wine, we theorised), coupled with a favourable fattiness and a rich smokiness. The dish wasn't necessarily indicative of the chef's skills, but did show his talent for choosing high quality ingredients.
There were deep-fried snowfish steaks served on a bed of iceberg lettuce:
This was probably my least favourite dish of the meal. I've always found snowfish (plaa hima) impressive looking, but underwhelming in the flavour department. And if you ask me, iceberg lettuce belongs on Big Macs and not much else.
This was followed by steamed crab (pictured at the top of this post). In talking to chef Jok after dinner, we learned that his family had been in the crab business for 70 years. Indeed, it was while delivering seafood to Chinatown's various restaurants, he explained, that he 'learned' many of the recipes that later became the basis of his restaurant. It goes without saying that Jok knows his crab, and this was by far the meatiest I've ever come across, although unfortunately it appeared to have been steamed long before reaching our table.
We loved the abalone stir-fried with dried musrhooms and Chinese kale:
Until, that is, Mr Jok matter-of-factly informed us that it was mock abalone (apparently made from squid). Regardless, for me at least, this took nothing away from the peppery spiciness of the sauce and the delicious mushrooms and kale--my favourite parts of the dish.
Next was a dish of prawns deep-fried with ginkgo nuts:
This also turned out to be slightly disappointing, as the prawns were overcooked. I did like the texture of the ginkgo nuts though, which were pleasantly rubbery, not floury as I expected.
I really enjoyed Jok's 'Old-fashioned fried rice':
which contained more of that deliciously smokey pork (one of our group bought half a kilo to take home). According to one of the cooks, making the dish involved steaming rice, cooling it under a fan, refrigerating it overnight, separating the grains, and then slowly frying it, to allow the flavours of the various ingredients to penetrate the rice. It works, and the grains of rice were both rich, as well as separate and not overcooked.
Fried rice was followed by a delicious soup of grouper and pickled greens, and we assumed our meal was over at this point, but Mr Jok wanted us to try his most recent menu item, shrimp-and-fishcakes:
Part of the postprandial ceremony is the obligatory picture with Chef Jok himself:
And of course, if you'd like to come back, the reservation:
I suspect there'd be a minor catastrophe if this book was lost. Our next visit? Sometime in November.
Jok (Google Maps link) 23 Trok Issaranuphap Chinatown, Bangkok 02 221 4075, 02 623 3921, 081 919 9468